Playing with words

Victor Davis Hansen talks about terminology used in the immigration dialogue.

In the fierce debate over illegal immigration, the particular terms used by those who argue our porous borders are not a serious problem can tell us a lot.

What explains these distortions in language? Simple — politics. Those who tolerate de facto uncontrolled borders employ fuzzy adjectives such as “guest” and “undocumented” that do not accurately describe the millions of aliens illegally in the United States, a fact opposed by the vast majority of Americans.

By the same token, these who raise legitimate concerns are reduced to “nativists” or “racists” to preclude a fair hearing of their often persuasive arguments. Change the language, and political change may follow.

The choice of words, the stretching of meanings – such as made famous by President Clinton in his discourse about the meaning of the word “is” – and the misuse of words are all means that paint a desired picture.

The power of words is in their nuance and context and expression. They can be satire or bald description. They can paint an accurate picture of reality or a distorted picture. The key for any reader is to make sure that the words he reads are interpreted as the author intended so he can then decide what to do with what he reads.

In political or emotional discourse, the reader must be particularly discerning to make sure he can see through the words and find out what the underlying reality behind them really is.

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